2 Peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago

After several fun filled days exploring the city of Porto, it was finally time to make our way to the starting point of our 194 km/121 mile trek of the Camino de Santiago.  We hopped on a train for the 1 hour ride from Porto to Barcelos.  From the train station, we had a 20 minute walk to the city center.  Something big was underway, as the streets and alleyways were lined with beautiful lighted sculptures, colorful flags and banners, and hundreds of students lining the streets getting ready to march in a parade.  It turned out to be a celebration of Portugal’s liberation 50 years ago.  It was fun to be in the center of all the excitement.  We only had the one evening in Barcelos before starting our Camino trek the following morning, so we wandered the city center and found a cafe that catered to Camino pilgrims (peregrinos).  For $5 euro each, we had a big bowl of hearty soup with bread, a plate full of food, and a large glass of wine.  What a deal!  All throughout the city, there were these bright and colorful roosters of varying sizes.  The rooster is quite famous, and the story quite intriguing.  I will give you the short version but highly recommend looking up the more detailed version.  Basically, the folk tale is that a dead rooster crows to prove an accused man’s innocence. There are a number of variations on the basic theme and all are quite fun to read.  Needless to say, we purchased a small version of the colorful rooster that adorns the town.  We turned in somewhat early in preparation for our long walking days ahead.

The pretty town of Barcelos – our Camino starting point
The famous rooster of Barcelos
Pilgrims canteen – hearty and cheap fuel for trekkers

Day 1:  Barcelos to Balagues – 11 miles/18 kilometers

The first part of this trek was definitely not my favorite.  We walked through town and along busy roadways without sidewalks making me very uncomfortable from a safety standpoint.  Plus, this was not at all what I pictured in my head.  A tradition on the camino is to carry a rock from home that serves as a symbol of your burdens.  During our hikes around our house, we had carefully chosen several rocks, unique to our area, that would represent our burdens.  I decided to leave one at the start, one at the border between Portugal and Spain, and the final one at the Cathedral of St. James.  As we began to leave the town behind, we came across a stone cross which seemed like the perfect place to leave our stone.  Dan asked if I had left my burden behind to which I replied, “no because you’re still here.”  Haha….just kidding!  We both laughed.  Eventually, the path meandered into the countryside where things were much more tranquil and serene.  The countryside was beautiful and ever changing.  3 hours and 45 minutes later, we arrived in Balagues very tired and very sore.  We arrived at our accommodation where we were greeted with an ice cold beer.  Man, that was the best beer ever.  Our room was quite amazing as well.  Cut into stone archways with wooden doors and shutters, maroon tapestries and a canopied bed, it looked like a room in a castle.  Unfortunately, we did not read the small print (ok, not so small) on our peregrino passports that says you must get 2 stamps every day on our journey.  Awww man!  Our only option was this 1 restaurant which was a 20 minute walk away.  So, despite being exhausted and sore, we made the journey to the restaurant.  We pre-ordered (the restaurant actually called us ahead of time to get our order) the grilled cod (salted cod is very famous in Portugal and we had been eating it in a variety of ways since we arrived).  When it arrived, we were both shocked at the ginormous piece of fish that sat between us.  Yikes.  Oh, the lengths you will go to in order to ensure you have the required number of stamps.

121 miles to go….all on foot!
Getting our Pilgrim Passport it’s first stamp of many
We brought some rocks from Arizona as a symbol of “leaving burdens behind” on the Camino
Robyn settling nicely into trekking long distances
First day video recap
The hotel welcomed us with cold beers. Perfect after a day on the Camino!
This was one of favorite rooms of the trip!
The largest piece of seafood we have ever had for dinner!

Day 2:  Balagues to Ponte de Lima – 12 miles/20 kilometers

We hit the trail fairly early again since we had another long day ahead of us.  I forgot to mention that when we began planning this journey, the requirement to acquire your certificate of achievement was to walk at least 100 kilometers.  Since we (Americans) don’t really operate in kilometers, I told Dan we should just make it an even 100 miles.  I was also told by Dan that the average miles per day was 10.  When we set out, I began to question how he managed to sneak in an extra 21 miles?  He then told me that it was actually more than that since we were adding in the spiritual variant!  What?!  I then questioned how we were getting a 10 mile average when these first two days were over 10 and none of the upcoming days were ever under 10.  He then tried to tell me that he said it was the median not the average.  Oh no you don’t…..I know exactly what you said and it was not median.  I have now threatened to record our conversations.  Ahhhh, the conversations you have while walking for many hours.  3 hours and 57 minutes later, we arrived in the city of Ponte de Lima (once again, exhausted and sore….I am sure that surprises you).  Here we had a nice room in the heart of the city.  After a little bit of a rest, we headed out to explore the city and grab some dinner.  It’s amazing how much lighter and faster you feel on your feet once you ditch the 20 pound backpack!

Ticking the the KMs (and miles!) down
Spring time scenery was wonderful
Wonderful trekking
Ponte de Lima – our stop for the night
Our guest room was in a great location in the heart of the town
Enjoying some local lamb after a day of trekking
Day 2 video recap

Day 3:  Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes – 11.6 miles/19 kilometers and 1804 feet/545 meters of elevation gain!

As we were checking out of our room in Ponte de Lima, our young host told us to please enjoy breakfast.  We politely explained that we really weren’t hungry and thanked her.  She got this very concerned look on her face and told us to please take some of the food with us.  We explained to her that we really don’t eat breakfast and typically won’t eat until late afternoon.  She looked a bit horrified, bagged up some croissants and begged us to please take them with us.  We agreed and were on our way.  As we walked along, we both were chuckling at how insistent she was that we have food.  This was a beautiful part of the trek through very lush forests.  The trail was great and the smell of pine permeated the air.  This was really cool….until it wasn’t.  We had to come up and over the mountain!  It was relentless climbing over tree roots and rock gardens….footing very unsure.  Every inch of our lower body was on fire!  I now understood why our young host was so concerned that we were not eating breakfast and didn’t want to take any food with us.  SHE knew what we were going to be facing.  I can’t tell you how relieved we both were when we finally reached the top!  All downhill from here.  We stopped just on the outskirts of town (as did many pilgrims) for a much needed ice cold beer…ok, maybe two.  4 hours and 26 minutes after starting, we arrived in the small town of Rubiaes and checked in.  Unfortunately, this very small town had very few options for both restaurants and lodging.  Since I am way to old (and sleep challenged) to stay in hostels with 30 or more of my closest friends, Dan worked very hard to make sure he booked us private rooms wherever he could.  This was probably my least favorite lodging as we had 2 twin beds that were like sleeping on cement.  Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.  On top of it all, it had started to rain and the only restaurant in town was closing up for siesta when we arrived (we were starving by now).  So, we got to walk there and back twice after our big day!

Across the medieval Ponte de Lima Bridge
You meet many nationalities on the Camino
The trail is starting to get a bit steep!
And even steeper!
The summit was an ideal location to leave symbolic rocks of “burdens left behind”
The Apple watch tells the tale – over 1600 feet elevation on this stage
Video recap
Guest house was a welcome sight after a difficult day!

Day 4:  Rubiaes to Valenca – 10.24 miles/17 kilometers

Today came with rain.  That should make things interesting.  Our host had told us that today would be a much easier day after yesterday.  That was a huge relief.  By the time we got started, the rain had become a steady drizzle.  Not too much trouble, but it did make footing interesting.  A large portion of the path was cobblestone blocks which became slick in the rain.  Other sections were dirt which became mug bogs and required carefully picking our way through.  We were once again enveloped by lush green trees and shrubbery in some areas, beautiful swaths of flowers in other areas, and large vineyards as far as you could see.  We followed streams and rivers with many small waterfalls and farm areas with sheep, lamb and cows.  It was beautiful.  Everywhere we went, locals and fellow pilgrims wished you a Bom Dia (good day) and Bom Caminho (good camino).  3 hours and 28 minutes later, we arrived in Valenca,

wet and bedraggled but feeling pretty good.  Wow….were we acclimating to these long days of walking?  We had a lovely apartment booked inside the fortress walls.  This was our last stop in Portugal before crossing the border into Spain.  I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a little sad to be leaving Portugal behind.  This was my first time here, and I really loved it!  Although very crowded with tourists, we enjoyed wandering the cobblestone alleyways and exploring the small shops and cafes.  In the center of the square we enjoyed some drinks while listening to a man belt out some old American classics.  Most of the pilgrims we encountered weren’t staying in Valenca.  Many pass on through to the town of Tui which is only a mile and a half across the river to Spain.  Since we really wanted one more night in Portugal, we decided to build in a rest day by staying in Valenca and crossing to Tui the following day and staying a night there.  We had a leisurely morning in Valenca before making our way to Tui.

In order to keep this somewhat manageable for you, the reader, I will end this post with the Portugal section of the Camino.  Our next entry will pick up with the Spain portion as we make our way to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.  We’ve included some video clips in the hopes of giving you a better sense of the experience.  As always, thank you for following along and hope you enjoy!

Vineyards are everywhere on this trek
Cafe’s were a great place to take a brief rest and enjoy well made cappuccinos
Valenca – last stop in Portugal
Walled fortress of Valenca
Video recap of the day
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